Adam, Asperger’s Syndrome, And The Transcendental Meditation Technique

Asperger’s is often referred to as “high-functioning autism.” Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder, associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by an impairment in language and communication skills, as well as restrictive patterns of thought and behavior.

In the following video Mrs. Yvonne Kurtz and her son Adam talk about how the TM program has helped him manage symptoms of Asperger’s and improve his overall experience at school and at home.

Here’s an article written by Mrs. Kurtz and published the July/August 2011 issue of Autism Digest. In it she tells about her son’s experience with TM.

“Adam, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the Transcendental Meditation Program: High stress is inherent in most individuals with ASD. TM can help!”

By Yvonne Kurtz

My 14-year-old son, Adam, has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s intelligent, but over the years he has had difficulties with speech, fine motor skills, social interaction, and sensory issues. He has been in a number of special education classes because of his challenges, and we’ve paid for expensive therapy to help him. When he started middle school, he was just beginning to tie his shoes, drink from a cup, and use silverware. Such are the extremes within a person when Asperger’s is part of the mix.

Adam’s grades in his 7th grade mainstream classes were solid B’s, but at a school conference his teachers reported that he whined a lot and often acted as if he were in the middle of some fantasy, taking one side and then another in a story in his own little world. Other kids thought he was strange and he had trouble getting along with some of them.

He also threw frequent temper tantrums at home when he didn’t get his way or if we restricted his video games. Life at our household became increasingly unpleasant as my husband and I frequently disagreed over how to deal with Adam’s extreme behavior.

Adam Kurtz practicing Transcendental Meditation

Then I began to think about how the Transcendental Meditation program helped me develop a calmer approach to life and wondered whether it might also help Adam. Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, is a simple, natural, effortless mental technique, practiced 10-20 minutes twice a day. It helps wake up the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functioning skills such as decision-making, impulse control, organization, and socialization. (Travis, et al., Cognitive Processes, 2010.) I thought a more fully functioning prefrontal cortex might help Adam with some of his behavioral problems.

Even though I was concerned about Adam practicing TM regularly, I thought he deserved the chance. As it turned out, my concerns about him not wanting to meditate on a regular basis were unfounded. He took to it like he did to chocolate chip cookies. I’d wake up in the morning, walk by his room, and there he’d be sitting up in bed with his eyes closed. He would say in an understated manner typical of a 13-year-old boy, “I’m having a fairly positive experience.”

After about two months of Adam meditating, I woke one morning to realize he hadn’t had a temper tantrum in a while. Before starting TM, he sometimes lost school assignments and would scream, cry, and blame me for losing them. However, a few months after starting TM, when he lost a school assignment, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said in a disappointed voice, “I guess I’ll just have to do it all over again.” At the next school conference, the reports were much more positive. We were told that all of his alarming behaviors had lessened or disappeared, and his grades were mostly A’s. He had stopped talking to himself, rarely appeared to be in a fantasy world, and was more organized. He was also getting along fine with the other kids, including one whom he had considered an enemy before.

It has been over a year now since my son started practicing TM. He still does it twice a day, and we continue to witness improvements in his behavior. Of course, he’s a 14 -year-old boy and he still acts like one. I do not try to fool myself that he no longer has Asperger’s. He’s still socially awkward, particularly in groups, though even that has improved.
As Adam’s problems decreased, my husband and I started getting along better. Today we are a much happier family and we actually enjoy doing simple things together such as cooking, exercising, and watching TV.

Adam recently told me he has an interest in becoming an Eagle Scout. So now some of his video game time is spent creating experiences to make that happen. He was also named “Student of the Month” at school, and received a certificate and letter from the principal commending him for his improvements. We were thrilled! For the first time, I started to realize my dreams of college and a normal independent life for this child could actually come true.

All these positive changes made me look more deeply into scientific research on the TM program. Dr. Sarina Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist and lead researcher on TM and ADHD, told me that although they haven’t conducted any formal research on children solely with Asperger’s who are practicing TM, she witnessed improvements in symptoms in children with both Asperger’s and ADHD after starting TM.

When someone engages in a conversation, one area of the brain produces words while another area monitors the reaction of the other person. Both areas of the brain must work together simultaneously, and studies have shown that doesn’t happen as well for people with Asperger’s. (Just, MA, et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2007.) Their nerve pathways are less synchronized, resulting in less integrated functioning. During TM practice, not only does the synchronicity between areas of the brain improve, but the EEG readings of the entire brain become more coherent. All of this indicates that TM may be an excellent therapy to remediate some of the symptoms of Asperger’s.

The next step will be for researchers to study the effects of TM on people with Asperger’s. Because of our experience, I encourage parents to take a serious look at the TM program. I would also encourage entire families to learn TM together, since almost everyone needs to reduce stress and increase inner calmness and creativity. Recently Adam told me, “Mom, TM helps me keep my head clear inside.” That reminded me of what I was already experiencing for myself. TM helps me keep my head clear inside, too.
Yvonne Kurtz is a mom and a substitute teacher in the Minneapolis school district. She lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Research References:
1) Travis, F., Haaga, D.H., Hagelin, J., Tanner, M., Arenander, A., Nidich, S., Gaylord-King, C., Grosswald, S., Rainforth, M., & Schneider, R. (2010). A Self-Referential Default Brain State: Patterns of Coherence, Power, and eLORETA Sources during Eyes-Closed Rest and the Transcendental Meditation Practice. Cognitive Processes, 11(1), 21-30.

2) Just, M., Cherkassky, V., Keller, T. , Kana, R, & Minshew, N. (2007). Functional and Anatomical Cortical Underconnectivity in Autism: Evidence from an fMRI Study of an Executive Function Task and Corpus Callosum Morphometry. Cereb. Cortex 17(4): 951-961.

Reprinted with permission from Autism Asperger’s Digest Magazine

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